Category Archives: Music

Was Bo Diddley a Buddha?

Bo Diddley performing with Chuck Berry in 1972. Credit Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Stephen T. Asma
The New York Times, APRIL 10, 2017

Bo Diddley performing with Chuck Berry in 1972. Credit Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
CHICAGO — When I was in my 20s, I had the good fortune to play guitar as an opening act for the blues legend B. B. King. This lucky break opened many doors for me, and I soon found myself playing with other great blues musicians — Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy and Bo Diddley, to name a few. During one stretch time, Bo hired me whenever he played in Chicago.

Before my first gig with Bo, I spent a full week of intense preparation, learning and rehearsing his songs. On the opening night, he arrived to the venue five minutes before showtime. As he walked onstage in front of 500 shouting fans, I tried to tell him all the songs I’d prepared. He just looked at me blankly through his Coke-bottle glasses, plugged into his amp and launched into a loud, rhythmic riff on his trademark rectangular guitar. He never bothered to tell me what song we were playing, what chord changes were coming, what key we were in, or anything. But, as every blues and jazz musician knows, that’s how it goes.

After the first tune, he realized that I could follow him, and he cryptically shouted, “This monkey is tied, now let’s skin it!”

Bo and the other greats I played with often worked this way, and it was a hair-raising on-the-job education. These musicians never told me what was coming next, partly because they didn’t know themselves. They were masters of the art of improvisation.

In learning this art, I had to fumble to find the chord we were playing. That usually told me the key signature. Sometimes I could assume a certain chord progression and scale, but not always. Then I had to watch the bandleader like a hawk, for subtle cues — this tilt of the guitar means I solo, that slight bend of the knees means bring the dynamic down, this sudden jerk of the upper body means break. Or stop.

Improvising, in music, is the act of composing and performing simultaneously, and it is difficult to master. But it is also universal, and despite the powerful human impulse to plan and program, integral to nearly every aspect of our lives. No matter who you are — a welder, philosopher, a guitarist or a president — you are in some sense simultaneously making the map of your life and following it. It is not an exaggeration to say life itself is one long improvisation.

Consider seasoned travelers, for instance. They are typically imperfect communicators, but good improvisers. Talking with a stranger in a language not your own requires the interplay of prepared tools and real-time creativity. The process is filled with awkward gestures, incorrect pronunciations and occasional triumphs. We trust our bodies and muscle memory to succeed where intellectual calculation and semantic memory fail.

Improvising is a style of thinking generally. It investigates and helps us come to know the world not by theory but by a method of simulation — observing, listening, acting. I would argue, in fact, that it is the most fundamental form of human cognition, one that must have evolved long before deductive and inductive logic, when the first humans began developing the skills needed for their survival in an untamed environment.

In music, improvising with others requires a language of musical tools and norms. As the great jazz pianist Bill Evans put it, “Intuition has to lead knowledge, but it can’t be out there alone.” Some of the common tools (like scales and chords) and norms (conventions of dynamics, breaks or progressions) are learned on the job. They are acquired in the process of the communication itself. A more open and attentive listener acquires more innovative and nuanced moves, and increases the lexicon of expressive gestures.

In music, at least, improvisation sometimes gets a bad rap, usually from the precincts of classical or other formal Western styles that rely on notation. It is sometimes looked down upon with a “my kid could do that” kind of dismissive attitude. But the ability to improvise is not just “winging it.” It is built on foundations of study and practice that prepare the improviser for the moment of action.

“Wu-Wei” is a Chinese word that is often translated as “non-action” but more accurately means “natural action,” or action in accordance with nature. The idea, dominant in Taoism and Zen, is that one should try to find the natural way of doing something and then simulate, or align oneself to it, as opposed to forcing it. For example, the butcher should carve the animal at its joints, not in arbitrary locations. A carpenter should work with the grain of wood, rather than against it. A martial arts master should find the most economic use of his energy, and turn his opponent’s own force to his advantage, and so on. Finding this natural way is not effortless, but requires great practice. Once it has been mastered, however, it is possible to find a unique presence of mind in these activities. The mundane actions are turned into artistic and even spiritual expressions. Playing a musical instrument, boxing in a competition, and even folding your laundry can be Zen-like improvisations. Continue reading

Guqin master shares the sounds of love

site_197_world%20news_59183325 NOV 2016 – 5:29PM

SBS World News Radio: The guqin is an ancient musical instrument recognised as an important part of the world’s heritage. It has a history dating back at least three thousand years and was played by the Chinese philosopher, Confucius. Rarely seen outside of China, Australian audiences are hearing it played by one of its master performers.

By Greg Dyett
25 NOV 2016 – 4:00 PM UPDATED 25 NOV 2016 – 5:29 PM

The ancient sounds of the guqin as played by Master Yang Qing.
Speaking through a translator, he says the soft, elegant sounds of the seven-stringed guqin are designed to promote love.

“The sounds of this instrument, they are all harmonious. It’s about love, it’s about kindness. The sound is not that loud but what we are trying to do is that through the sounds of the music, we are trying to promote the mentality, the ideology of love, loving our nations, loving for the people so this is what we want to promote through this instrument. And what I’ve said just now, it also connects this instrument, it’s just like our teacher, our mother, our friend and it’s also about time, bring about harmony to the people around us.”

The Nan Tien Institute, which runs Australia’s largest Buddhist college, helped to bring Master Yang to Australia for a series of performances.

The institute’s Venerable Juefang says the instrument has Buddhist sensibilities.

“It gives space to the performer so in the Buddhist context, it is also the same. Everyone has our own lives, how are we going to build our own life, how are we going to perform our own music of our life, it’s all within ourselves. In the Buddhist context, there is this notion about emptiness. Emptiness means that there is space, there is all sorts of possibility to build our own life, to have a complete life, so this music – guqin – and Buddhism, the cultivation about a human being, there is actually a lot of relevance.” Continue reading

Master Yang Qing is in Australia to play a series of concerts on the ancient guqin

master_yang_qing_sbs_0SBS News
27 NOV 2016 – 1:33PM

‘It’s about love’: master musician brings ancient Chinese guqin to Australia

A master of the ancient, UNESCO-recognised, Chinese instrument the guqin is in Australia to play a series of concerts.

By Greg Dyett

The ancient gupin has been part of China’s history for at least 3000 years and was played by the Chinese philosopher, Confucius.

The guqin is a seven-stringed zither instrument and one of its master performers has been in Australia for a series of concerts.

Master Yang Qing has been playing the instrument for decades and he told SBS News the guqin’s soft, elegant sounds were designed to promote love.

“The sounds of this instrument are all harmonious,” he said.

“It’s about love, it’s about kindness. The sound is not that loud and what we are trying to do through the sound of the music is promoting the mentality and ideology of love.

“Loving our nations, loving for the people, is what we are trying to promote through this instrument.”

The Nan Tien Institute, which runs Australia’s largest Buddhist college, helped to bring Master Yang to Australia for a series of concerts.

The institute’s Venerable Jue Fang said the guqin had Buddhist sensibilities.

“It gives space to the performer so in the Buddhist context, it is also the same,” she said. Continue reading

Nepal’s most popular Buddhist nun is a musical rock star

d9171742e5174a7d9ea903c07c198615Yahoo News
October 13, 2016

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — There is one Buddhist nun everyone in Nepal knows by name — not because she’s a religious icon and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, nor for her work running a girl’s school and a hospital for kidney patients.

Ani Choying Drolma is famous as one of the country’s biggest pop stars.

With more than 12 albums of melodious Nepali tunes and Tibetan hymns that highlight themes of peace and harmony, the songstress in saffron robes has won hearts across the Himalayan nation and abroad.

“I am totally against the conservative, conventional idea of a Buddhist nun,” the 45-year-old nun said. Some people “think a Buddhist nun should be someone who does not come out in the media so much, who is isolated … always in a monastery, always shy. But I don’t believe in that.”

Neither do her fans, who greet her with a roar of applause whenever she walks out on stage, and fall silent as she closes her eyes to sing.

“Every time I get frustrated with life or get angry, I just listen to Ani’s music and I calm down,” said one fan, Sunil Tuladhar. “She is my music goddess.”

But with a career deviating sharply from what conservatives in Nepal believe to be the proper path of a Buddhist, she’s caught criticism as well. One Buddhist monk at the famed Swayambhu Shrine questioned how she can reconcile the simple life of a religious ascetic with the fame and wealth she’s amassed over her two-decade musical career.

“How can a nun be making money by selling her voice, living a luxurious life and yet claim she is a nun?” Surya Shakya asked. Continue reading

“Horai – Shin Buddhist Chants”, a new album by Massimo Claus

Myo Edizioni

Myo Edizioni, A Little indipendent Buddhist music label & publishing house has released “Horai – Shin Buddhist Chants”, a new album by Massimo Claus.

The tracks gathered in this album are ancient sacred chants belonging to a tradition of Pure Land Buddhism known as Jōdo Shinshū, of which the Horai school comprises an important spiritual lineage. Some of these chants (like the Shoshinge or Junirai) are performed as part of the daily liturgy by devotees of this Buddhist school.

“Horai” represents a profound synthesis where spirituality meets electronic music and electronic music becomes spirituality, recorded at the frequency 432 Hz.

Massimo Claus has not resurrected these ancient chants purely for entertainment, but has done so with a spiritual and cultural purpose in mind: to make these chants better known, not only to other Buddhists, but to all seekers.

Massimo Claus also released a two-part short video interview on his latest work:

Sounds of Korea Korean traditional dance

1472691792tm_160831[sound link at KBS radio site]

KBS World Radio

The poet left a detailed record of how he came to write this poem. One winter night a grand Buddhist ceremony was held at Yongjusa용주사 Temple in Hwaseong화성 and he was inspired by the Buddhist monks’ dance he saw for the first time in his life. He was so awestruck that he stood under a persimmon tree in the temple ground late into the night, long after the ceremony was over. But that experience did not immediately produce a poem. The following spring, he was again inspired by a painting of the Buddhist dance, which eventually led to his iconic poem “The Dance of the Buddhist Nun.” The Buddhist dance is called “seungmu승무” in Korean. This dance embodies a feeling of sincere penance for past wrongdoings and a strong yearning to seek eternal truth.

Music 1: Dance of the Buddhist Nun/ Composed by Hwang Eui-jong, performed by Gyeonggi Provincial Traditional Music Orchestra

The piece you heard, inspired by Cho Chi-hun’s poem “Dance of the Buddhist Nun,” was composed and sung by Hwang Eui-jong and accompanied by the Gyeonggi Provincial Traditional Music Orchestra. The dance that Buddhist monks perform during a Buddhist ritual is called “jakbeop작법,” which means establishing the law. In Buddhism, the law really means the truth. Jakbeop is not performed to hide human emotions, but to bring the truth to light. The folk version of Buddhist dance is much bigger and more intricate in its movement than jakbeop and is marked by an energetic drum playing at the end of the dance. One of the characteristics of Korean traditional dances is described as “movement within stillness, stillness within movement.” And seungmu승무 and salpuri살풀이 are two Korean dances that best demonstrate this feature. Salpuri is a dance that repels evil spirits and was probably influenced by the dance performed by shaman priestess during exorcism. Dance enthusiasts are amazed by the light footwork required in salpuri and the arching line created in the air when a long cloth is thrown, which represents the futility of life. Coming up next is the salpuri accompaniment performed by the Lee Seng-gang Traditional Folk Music Orchestra.

Music 2: Salpuri Accompaniment/ Lee Seng-gang Traditional Folk Music Orchestra Continue reading

An equal music

Caste is never far from Dalit pop. Young musicians like Thenmozhi Soundararajan say their music is inspired by and rooted in struggle. Photos: Special Arrangement

Caste is never far from Dalit pop. Young musicians like Thenmozhi Soundararajan say their music is inspired by and rooted in struggle. Photos: Special Arrangement

The Hindu
August 20, 2016

A hip young generation of singers is putting Dalit pop right on top of the charts

“I don’t want to talk of caste, I want to break it,” declares Ginni Mahi, the 17-year-old Punjabi folk-cum-pop singer from Jalandhar who has been making waves. Her latest track ‘Fan Baba Sahib Di’ (‘Ambedkar’s Fan’) proclaims her admiration for the architect of the Constitution and his emancipatory thoughts and writings. “I sing of Guru Ravidas, Guru Nanak, Kabir and Ambedkar. Their message was of equality and they called for an end to caste discrimination.”

Mahi is just one of a new generation of performers who are reinventing the music of the Dalit movement by mixing existing folk traditions with Western genres and attracting newer and younger crowds of listeners.

The Dalit movement has, down the years, given birth to many shairs (poets), folk musicians and balladeers, who sing paeans to Babasaheb, spreading his message across the country, speaking of breaking the shackles of inequality and exploitative Brahminical structures. Much of this revolutionary music, for example, the vast repertoire of ‘Bhim Geet’ (Ambedkar songs) in Maharashtra, has been the lifeblood of rights agitations from the start. Today, the singers have bigger dreams. Mahi, for instance, dreams of becoming a playback singer in Bollywood. They see themselves as having a far more universal appeal than their older counterparts did. Not so long ago, playback singers and musicians were known to hide their caste identity. The new lot flaunts it. Their lyrics are from their history, their videos replete with Ambedkar photos and Buddhist iconography.

“Folk songs and poetry were the old methods of spreading the message of equality. Ambedkar praised poets for putting ideas across so easily,” says singer-musician Kabeer Shakya from Navi Mumbai, who, in 2011, founded Dhamma Wings, which he calls an Ambedkarite Buddhist gospel band. “Today, you have to convey the same thing in a modern way. The Buddhist community is well-educated. That’s why we have started composing music in English. We perform in colleges; rock and pop work. Even non-Buddhists like my music.”

But caste is never far away from Dalit pop. As Shakya says, “Our whole identity is because of Ambedkar.” Pointing to his single ‘Deewana Buddha Bhim ji ka’, he says, “I am from a backward community. Someone injected a sickness [of caste] in our community. A doctor [Ambedkar] came and cured it. I represent the cured generation. Naturally, I will be his fan, his deewana. You will find the same sentiment everywhere. Ambedkar is a symbol of struggle.” Continue reading



Beyond Karma

The musical album Beyond Karma is a rare mix of sacred sounds from different cultures. The Gyuto Monks of Tibet (the group that ushered in the West’s appreciation and fascination with traditional chant through a series of best-selling albums starting in the late-1960s) are joined by Australia’s finest sacred music duo, Kim Cunio and Heather Lee, on this recording of traditional and newly-composed music from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The album on New Earth Records was arranged and produced by Dr. Kim Cunio, a renowned musician, musicologist and composer of sacred music, and Australia’s leading interpreter of traditional sacred musical traditions. Heather Lee is a multi-lingual soprano singer. Theirs is a professional and a personal partnership, and their marriage is a celebration of religious diversity including Jewish, Christian and Hindu traditions. With their adopted Indian son Babu (who sings on one piece from this album), they are a model of interfaith marriage. Cunio and Lee are prolific in their explorations of sacred music. For example, they worked together on an historic, audacious and scholarly musical project in 2000 based on the Dead Sea Scrolls when they transcribed the 2000-year-old music of the Baghdadi Jews and merged it with the text of the Scrolls. In addition to the team’s expertise in singing, Cunio plays many traditional instruments, and has had a number of ancient instruments specially reconstructed for specific projects. Continue reading


Caption: Ron Montano, Michael Yoshihara and Tsukasa Kobashi. Photo by Denise Young.

Caption: Ron Montano, Michael Yoshihara and Tsukasa Kobashi. Photo by Denise Young.

Nikkei West
By John Sammon

Michael Yoshihara said one of the greatest pleasures in playing Japanese American jazz and pop music at the Obon Festival in addition to the joy it provides the spectators, is the knowledge that it aids Buddhist Temples to continue operation and to preserve traditions.

“We help by attracting spectators to the Obon,” Yoshihara said.

Yoshihara is president and organizer of the San Jose Chidori Band, itself a long-time tradition. For 64 years the group has played Japanese popular music. The band was born out of the tragedy of Japanese Americans illegally imprisoned during World War II.

Obon is a Japanese custom honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors and features a dance called “Bon Odori,” designed to welcome the spirits of the dead. Different dances can be performed based on different themes or regions of Japan (one dance expressed sorrow for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan).

The idea of the dance has its roots in Japanese history going back hundreds of years to the time of Buddha. According to tradition a disciple of the Buddha was upset that his deceased mother had fallen into an underworld of angry spirits and asked the Buddha how his mother could be released. The Buddha advised him to make offerings to Buddhist monks. He did and the mother spirit was released to a more pleasant realm and so the young man danced with joy (Bon Odori).

Brought to the U.S. by Japanese immigrants in the late 1890s, the tradition, in addition to its religious overtones, evolved into a yearly celebration of Japanese and Japanese American culture, food and entertainment. Hosted by Buddhist Temples during street festivals held every summer from July through September, the events take place in communities throughout Northern and Southern California.
Continue reading

“Dalai Lama’s Mantra” Video Released by Rebel Pop Singer Songwriter Katie Costello, N.Y., July 6, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Rebel Pop Singer Songwriter, Katie Costello is releasing a beautiful, heart-warming music video in honor of the 14th Dalai Lama’s long life. Titled, “Dalai Lama’s Mantra,” this original song is the first time his mantra has been set to music.

Katie Costello, at the behest of a Buddhist monk, collaborated with Tibetan artist, Tenzin Gocha to put Buddhist mantras to music, among them the “Dalai Lama’s Mantra.” This collaboration resulted in the REBEL POP Records Special Release of meditation music, the EP, “Universal Spread of Compassionate Wisdom.” The “Dalai Lama’s Mantra” music video is being released in time for his 81st birthday, today, July 6th.

At a time of unprecedented violence and discord, the “Dalai Lama’s Mantra” music video is sure to raise the spirits of all who view it. This video is not just for Buddhists, it will bring a smile to all walks of life and age groups.

Founded in 2008, REBEL POP Records is an Independent Label and Music Publisher (Rebel Pop Songs/BMI), founded by Katie Costello and Vivekan.Its mission is to bring quality popular music from the heart of sincere Artists, straight to music fans all over the world. Along with “Universal Spread of Compassionate Wisdom”, its catalog of releases include, “Rebel Pop Singer Songwriter”, “Kaleidoscope Machine”, “Lamplight”, “The City in Me” and more. For more information, contact: REBEL POP Records.

Related Files

Press Release – Dalai Lama’s Mantra.pdf